Saying Hello to a Stranger

Saying hello to strangers1-01 Loading

I have been living outside of India for a long time now. I moved to Ireland in my early teens and now, after marriage, I moved to the USA. Consequently, there are certain habits that are part of me now, part of who I am and I cannot let go of them, however hard I try.

The last time I travelled to India was a year ago. It was a great feeling to be back home, it always is. I shared a love-hate relationship with Mumbai. I hated the omnipresent noise, the never-ending crowd, the constant pandemonium that grips the city, the mind-boggling cost of living and the nerve-racking traffic; but I loved it at the same time.

It was a pleasant December evening with a light, cool breeze when my friend and I decided to go for a walk in the nearby park. Needless to say, there were a lot of people in the park. There were couples jogging while filling each other in on the happenings of the day, aunties in their salwar kameezes and sneakers complaining about the increased prices of vegetables, uncles discussing the recent cricket match, kids playing in the playground while their parents watched over them affectionately. We walked while my friend updated me on the latest gossip about our mutual friends. We were going to have a reunion tomorrow and she wanted to make sure I was updated with the latest news.

A lady was passing us from the opposite direction when we were about to turn left. Our eyes met and I automatically smiled and said “Hello!” I wasn’t expecting the next thing that happened. The lady looked at me like I had ten heads and my friend stopped talking mid-way about a friend who was going through a break-up. Confused as to what had happened, I turned to my friend. “Do you know her?” she asked, looking as confused as I felt. “No” I replied, mentally double checking beforehand. “What’s wrong with you?” she exclaimed, “Why are you saying hello to a stranger?”  her expression somewhere between shock and annoyance. “I…I didn’t know one couldn’t say hello to strangers here. I do it all the time in Ireland. It’s pretty common to greet strangers there,” I replied, sounding slightly defensive. “But you are in India now! People will think you’re a weirdo if you go about saying hello to random people!” she ranted. “OK” I replied, embarrassed at the realization that I had made a fool of myself.

After walking for about half an hour or so, we decided to sit on a bench in the park. Most of them were occupied except one. There was an elderly woman already sitting there leaving space for two more. We hurried to the bench and took our place. I was sandwiched between the elderly lady and my friend. My friend gave me a ‘Don’t you dare!’ look but it was too late. I smiled and said “Hello!” to the lady beside me, out of habit. I quickly looked at my friend and I could see that she was ready to explode.

“Couldn’t you keep your mouth shut? Now, the lady probably thinks you are a weirdo! How awkward!” I thought to myself. I resolved not to embarrass myself anymore and was about to get up from the bench when I heard “Hello! It is a beautiful evening, isn’t it?” Did I just hear that? The lady REPLIED! After performing a monkey dance in my head and giving a triumphant look to my friend, I replied “Yes, it is. It’s lovely!” All three of us started talking about the weather, Mumbai, India and what not. The lady told me she has two children and two grandchildren, all of whom live in the USA.

It was time to go back home and we said our goodbyes. When I was about to leave, the lady said “It was good chatting with you girls! Time flies when you have company!” I smiled at her and replied “We had a great time too. You take care!”

On our way back home, my friend said, “You just got lucky that she replied, you know.” I looked at her and asked, “It was worth giving it a try, wasn’t it?”

“It was. It made her happy,” she admitted, finally.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Suchitra Yerukonda, a Software Engineer, currently lives in the USA with her husband. A bubbly girl whose life revolves around her family and friends, Suchitra's hobbies include reading, dancing, singing, traveling and trying out different cuisines. She's passionate about cooking and follows Dalai Lama’s instructions for life: “Approach love and cooking with reckless abandon”. Writing happened to her recently and Suchitra continues to explore it.

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